Friday, December 27, 2013

Pardon me, can you please apologise again?

Link to MSN Malaysia News

Jahara must be deaf to request a second apology from Lim Guan Eng.

Malaysia's opposition leader and Penang state Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng (© BAZUKI MUHAMMAD\Newscom\RTR)

Far from being satisfied with Penang Chief Minister’s prompt apology for calling Jahara Hamid a grandmother, she is now threatening legal action within a week if Lim Guan Eng did not apologise for a second time. The Telok Ayer Tawar State Assemblyman and Penang Opposition Leader must indeed be hard of hearing to demand a second apology.

Jahara had earlier drawn comparison between two different locations in Penang to support her argument that illegal Malay hawkers were being unfairly treated by the State Government. This would have resulted in instigating racial tension if the matter was not refuted immediately, to which the Chief Minister called Jahara a ‘racist grandmother’.

Telok Ayer Tawar Pakatan Rakyat coordinator, Norhayati Jaafar confirmed that the Malay stalls operating without licenses in Jahara’s constituency especially at Pantai Bersih are still operating their business without interference from the enforcement officers, contrary to what Jahara claimed.

“As far as I know, the Malay hawkers are still conducting their businesses in Telok Ayer Tawar and there are no intentions to do otherwise,” she said.

While Jahara may be crying wolf and entangled in her own web of deception, Penang enforcement officers are mostly caught in between carrying out their duties and appeasing a large number of illegal operators who unabashedly occupy idle land to carry out their businesses.

Tale of a Malay trader at Pantai Jerejak

Juninah and six other Malay hawkers operate without licences by the seaside near Bayan Mutiara in Bayan Baru. The site is now earmarked for land reclamation and the business owners have received notices to clear the area to make way for further development. These business owners have also requested the State Government to relocate them elsewhere.

Maybe the Penang State Government should help look into the problems faced by Malay traders. Tricky problems as such must be dealt with care and caution so as not to be accused as being discriminating against the Malays or being seen as setting precedence by negotiating with illegal traders.

Santai Bahtera, a pretty beachfront café located next to the Penang Island Pulau Jerejak Jetty has an amazing view of the Penang Bridge. To date, the café has permanent structures such as a surau, toilet and water facilities, electricity and even a stage.

“We are just earning a living but the State Government is chasing us away with development,” lamented Juninah.
Juninah had sought help from various authorities but all her cries for help are not being taken seriously.

“We admit we are illegally conducting our business here but we do hope that the State Government will help us by relocating us to another site,” she added, claiming that she recently spent RM140,000 renovating the place.

Apology not good enough

Word is out that Hj. Rashid Hasnon, Deputy Chief Minister 1 for Penang, who is also the State Assemblyman for Pantai Jerejak had given an explanation to Juninah for being unable to help her maintain her business site as the area will soon be condoned off to make way for bicycle tracks and land reclamation. However, efforts are still underway to help Juninah and the others achieve an amicable solution.

Apologies and explanations are always never good enough.

Good governance is all about making the right call at the right time. The State Government has the authority to allow or disallow, make legal or stand firm on matters concerning illegal occupation of idle land.

The only setback is that if any precedence was made, many other instances of illegal traders seeking the same compensation and treatment may be expected in the future or else the State Government may risk being accused as being unfair.

Pardon me, can you please say that again?

Apart from Jahara’s threat to sue the Chief Minister of Penang if Lim Guan Eng did not apologize for a second time within a week, the issue of being called a ‘racist grandmother’ remains firmly wedged as a racial issue – one that is distinguishably ambiguous as enforcement officers are expected to carry out their duties only towards non-Muslims.

Jahara claims that only stalls of a certain race were demolished. Perhaps Jahara can provide a fair solution for all illegal traders and without prejudice too. In any case, if she is only looking after the interest of Malay and Bumiputera traders, then she would have just affirmed and stamped the ‘racist’ label on herself.

As a grandmother of seven grandchildren, there is no reason why she should not be called a grandmother if she was proud to be one at all.

** This is the writer’s personal opinion.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How sexist remarks attract remarkable attention

Link to MSN Malaysia

A grandmother by any other name is still a grandmother.

Reuters Picture Stream (© Reuters Picture Stream)

The commotion over the ‘racist grandmother’ remark hurled by the Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng during the Penang State Assembly towards the State Opposition Leader, Jahara Hamid drew ire from many people even though an apology was issued soon after.

Gender accusation is highly inappropriate considering many people would have misconstrued Lim’s remark although his timely apology was commendable.

The Chief Minister fell for the oldest trick in the book – succumbing to provocation and unfair accusation from the opposition. On hindsight, if Lim had not been so quick with his tongue and instead retorted in a calm manner, Jahara would have just remained as that, a grandmother.

In all hilarity, the term ‘grandmother’ has never been a derogatory one until now. The word conjures an affectionate portrayal of a woman with wisdom. As such, it would be an oxymoron if ever the phrase ‘Grandma Jahara’ was coined.

Jahara had accused the Penang State Government with practicing double standard in enforcements with illegal stall operators by comparing two totally different locations to support her argument. She would have intentionally caused the issue of enforcement to be a racial one even though there was none.

Calling a spade a spade

A rose by any other name is still a rose. Whether a woman is a grandmother or a spinster, name calling gains attention. This is mainly because people do not like being called names. Even more so, when a woman is reminded of her gender - as if it is something negative - age and marital status aside, she would get upset.

The point in hand here is that language plays an important role in gender equality. The understanding of words relates all the way back to how we were brought up and how society reacts in certain circumstances.

Somehow, a man would not accuse another man of being a racist grandfather or a racist bachelor.

In a world where women have to work doubly hard to achieve what men take for granted, it comes as no surprise that women feel unsettled with phrases in relations to gender connotations.

After all that is being said and done, it may also be constructive if women were able to take a different approach towards gender classifications. So what if we were being called a grandmother? So what if we were being called a spinster?

It takes a lot to get to where these women are today and all that has nothing to do with being either a grandmother or a spinster. If the women truly reveled in being a woman, being branded as one should be taken in a positive manner rather than a negative one.

Triumphantly, it may be that men feel intimidated by the presence of women. Therefore, the overwhelming need to verbalise it in a way to put the women ‘back where they belong’ sometimes come about in the most unexpected manner.

For example, Ridhuan Tee would never comprehend why a woman might choose to be single rather than a couple. He is a blind follower without essential critical thoughts and should be aptly dismissed as a nuisance not worthy of our time.

After all, a sneer should not be mistaken as a sexist remark.

What is a sexist remark?

A sexist remark is when someone refers to another with an offensive word or phrase that belittles or insults the person’s gender. The offensive words may range from vulgar words to descriptive words that refer to a woman’s genitals.  Who could forget the Minister who implied that women ‘leaked’ every month?

In any case, being labelled as a grandmother or spinster is candidly mild and women should not take any further offence. Be proud of being one instead of feeling insulted. That itself will cancel out any contemptuous effort, if any, that was meant as a pot shot to an easily bruised ego – something synonymous to being sensitive and emotional.

Last but not least, being a racist carries no sexist undertone. Jahara remains as one.

** This is the writer’s personal opinion.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Duo Stringendo

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A time to understand human rights: Human Rights Day on 10 Dec

A time to understand human rights: Human Rights Day on 10 Dec
Malaysia is still rated fairly free despite fall in Human Development Index ranking.
Demonstrator holds candle during vigil for release of Raja Petra and opposition member of parliament Kok in Kuala Lumpur (© Reuters)

The existence of a Human Rights Day ironically translates into an apparent lack of human rights in the world, even with laws which are supposedly meant to protect the innocent.

In 1950, the United Nations General Assembly declared 10 December as Human Rights Day. It has been twenty years since 1993, when a mandate of High Commissioner was created for the promotion and protection of all human rights during the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna the same year.

Furthermore, Women’s Rights are now acknowledged as a fundamental human right. Discrimination and acts of violence against women are at the forefront of the human rights discourse.

Human rights cover a wide range of issues including access to basic necessities, equality, life and the right to tell the truth. In the Universal Declaration of Human the first and second article states that:
  1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood;
  2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Human Rights in Malaysia

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in a survey done under Human Development Index (HDI), Malaysia has backslidden in its ranking, from 61st place in 2011 to 64th place out of 187 countries in 2013.

Two massive rallies, dubbed Bersih 2.0 and Bersih 3.0, held on 9 July 2011 and 28 April 2012 respectively attributed to the drop in the HDI ranking. Bersih is the Malaysian acronym for Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, and aims to promote free and fair elections in Malaysia. During Bersih 2.0, over 1600 protesters were arrested while over 500 protesters were similarly detained for Bersih 3.0. Riot police also used tear gas and water cannons on protesters at both rallies.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), a human rights organisation in Malaysia, is still actively pursuing the case of the Defence Ministry’s controversial Scorpene submarine purchase through the French court. The world still mourns the death of a central figure in the Scorpene deal - Altantuya Shaariibuugin, who was blown up with C4 explosives in 2006 and her immigration records erased.

Another blatant violation of human rights in Malaysia is the rape of indigenous Penan women in Sarawak. Workers of a large timber conglomerate had been constantly harassing the local women, but there has no action taken against them, even though the incidents were broadly publicised.

Do laws protect or are they used to prosecute and silence the victims?

In Malaysia, the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allowed for detention without trial was replaced with the Security Offences (Special Measures) 2012 Act (SOSMA). SOSMA and the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) which replaces Section 27 of the Police Act have been criticised as being even more draconian and restrictive.

The officially endorsed policy of preferential treatment towards the majority practised in Malaysia is another instance of human rights violation, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Any attempts to question or discuss the matter will be dealt with by the Sedition Act or the Printing Presses and Publication Act.

Even Christians in the country are not spared. A recent ban on the use of the Arabic word ‘Allah’ by Christians created international headlines and much negative publicity.

Ops Lallang, an operation carried out in 1987 saw a total of 106 people arrested under the ISA. Forty people were detained without trial for two years and sent to the Kamunting Detention Centre. These people included political figures, social activists and individuals. Two daily newspapers, The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh had their publishing licences revoked for a period of time.

Custodial deaths and the licence to kill

According to SUARAM, there have been 12 custodial deaths alone this year. Two other high-profile deaths were Teoh Beng Hock and Gunasegaran who died the same day – 16 July 2009.

When Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said, “I think the best way is not to compromise with them, don’t give anymore warnings to them, [if] we have evidence, we [will] shoot first”, it created a furore among right-thinking Malaysians.

With such a statement, Ahmad Zahid has displayed a lack of understanding about the rule of law.

Your right is just as much my right

Just a few days ago, an UMNO division head asked for the 1Malaysia slogan to be changed to 1Melayu during the party’s General Assembly. Such blatantly racist statements are nothing new in Malaysia. Even former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has claimed the minorities face systematic marginalization in Malaysia.

It is bizarre how a human can treat another human with so much contempt, and this plainly justifies the existence of something like Human Rights Day. Laws are written by men, but some men manipulate the law to favour the rich and influential. Can we then blame the 47% who voted the present government into power?

While most would frown upon giving out election goodies and rightfully view it as a form of vote-buying, the Prime Minister has been quoted as saying ‘you help me, I help you’ during a state election campaign in Sarawak in 2011.

It comes as no surprise at all that immediately after the General Election and heavy spending, the prices of all essential goods shot up, due to a hike in petrol prices, the removal of the sugar subsidy and a rise in electricity tariffs. To add insult to injury, an impending Goods and Service Tax of 6% will be imposed from April 2015.

Inflation affects the livelihood and affordability of the average wage earner. Although a moderate inflation rate is healthy for the country’s economy, knee-jerk changes to the country’s fiscal policies will create shock and unrest. To make things worse, the Prime Minister’s wife, who apparently obtained the cabinet’s approval to represent the country for official visits using the country’s jet plane, has displayed spendthrift ways unbecoming of someone in her position.

How UMNO equates itself with the great Nelson Mandela who passed away on 6 December this year is yet another mind-boggling claim. One fights for human rights, while the other fights against it. One helped in the removal of the noxious apartheid policy, while the other promotes superiority of a certain race.

Facts are indeed stranger than fiction.

So what are Human Rights? Human Rights are the ability to treat another fellow human being with goodwill and mutual respect to achieve peace and unity. In Malaysia, with things as they are now, that ideal scenario is a long time coming. Until then, we still need Human Rights Day.

** Article published in MSN Malaysia

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Stepping out of men's shadows by Carolyn Khor

Link to MSN

Domestic violence is not the norm

 Domestic violence (© slkoceva, Getty Images)

Domestic violence, rape and unwanted pregnancies are problems that are synonymous with less fortunate women who are often left in a lurch with a series of problems that follow. The predicaments these women find themselves in are less likely to be publicly acknowledged due to the conservative attitude of the society towards such occurrences. 

While it is widely agreed that women are the victims of such incidences, nonetheless cases like these are often swept under the carpet or settled between two disputing parties to save the hassle of going through court proceedings to seek compensation or justice.

The instance of the recently divorced 13 year old girl in Kulim who married her rapist highlights the severity of how families are willing to compromise their daughter’s wellbeing in order to save face. Both families of the adolescences conceded to allow their teenage children enter a contract of marriage even though both may not have been ready or prepared for the responsibilities of starting a family. Both families had thought that through marriage the family honour may remain intact and the stigma that comes along as being a victim and rapist could just be eventually forgotten. This shows that conservative families still opine that the happiness of the teenagers comes secondary to any face-saving measures that may keep gossip-mongers at bay.

The promotion of abstinence and rigid religious outlook form the basis of such bias atrocities towards women.

Men on the other hand, escape criticism, penalties and deterrent actions.

Consent to marriage for minors involved in rape should only be precipitated if sufficient care and understanding towards the marriage institution are taken into consideration. This swift and candid solution towards the victims cannot be taken as an absolute response to resolve the matter.

The heavy burden placed on the child in premature marriages interferes with the child’s opportunity to education and better work opportunities. An early bride is expected to carry out the responsibilities of a wife which includes child-bearing.  As and when the child bride is left to fend for herself, she will be unable to do so and this creates additional stress and problems to the community.

Domestic violence is inevitably associated with the lack of support and awareness that violence is not an acceptable form of communication. Domestic violence happens in households of varying lengths and ages although younger women and very young women might find it doubly challenging to verbalise or respond adequately towards it. Women who fall in this category are often made to feel shameful of themselves and are belittled for voicing out, as domestic problems are still largely considered a personal problem and not something to complain about.

Perpetrators of domestic violence dictate the situation with emotional and mental manipulation and blackmail. The aggressor blames the victim for provoking him and uses contemporary examples of how other women submit and accept such incidences. Families of these aggressors normally take the side of the aggressor while families of the victim can only advise the victim to tolerate even more to avoid divorce or a break-up in the marriage, many times for the sake of the children.

Although the society does not wish for more single parents, smug attitudes towards single parents and divorcees should not form basis as hindrance for women to choose to lead a healthier and less conflicted life - whether both parties part amicably instead of continually suffer in a high-tension situation daily or face the consequences of being in a lopsided contract. Children involved in such conflicts are also the victims and will stand to gain if they were shielded from the devastating dilemma.

Instead of feeling helpless, women should stand firm in their conviction whether to allow the society’s opinion affect their decision to stay or leave a bad relationship, or to make changes to halt the assaults. The obstacles that women face daily are marked with expectations and limitations. However, no matter what the decision, it should be a beneficial choice with room for personal growth and with provision to provide a healthy ground for their children’s growth.

** Article published in MSN Malaysia

Monday, December 2, 2013

Understanding women by Carolyn Khor

Women are often described as gentile, docile, mild, sensitive and emotional. On the other hand, the unflattering sides of women are generally characterised by terms like unforgiving, petty, overreactive, narrow-minded and judgmental.

These definitions of women we should then ask - are they what the women really think of themselves or are women being conveniently shoved into neat little categories by those who lack understanding of who the real women are?

The way our society has been trained to think from young is skewed towards gender segregation and discriminatory practices. There are no rules to say that baby boys should be dressed in blue and baby girls in pink, but sadly, commercial advertising and consumers alike move along the trend of mass stereotyping.

The superiority of man as a gender did not come by accident. It has been reflected in cultures through time, reinforced through language and then practiced through the laws that govern us as a society.

Two main bodies that regulate our daily lives are the civil and religious law. People subscribe to these notions and hold them in high regards as the commonly accepted principles in life. With that, an acceptance of the punishments that follow if these rules were deviated from arose.

Although there are obvious physical differences between men and women, the role that each gender take upon may not be that distinct anymore especially with our modern lifestyle. Whereas the man used to be the sole breadwinner in the family, the worsening economic situation has forced many women to seek work to supplement the family income. As more and more women get access to education and work opportunities, the gender gap has become narrower.

Even so, people should not forget that women too, since ages ago used to toil the land, braved many difficulties and shared the responsibilities of shaping the world into what we have today. All these are left unspoken for while increasing barriers are placed upon the women to restrict them from realising their true potential.

It is not to say that women should revolt and start abandoning caution to the wind in the battle against men; but rather, to rely on their inner strength, develop and inculcate a sense of worthiness to combat the disunity that have taken roots among the women.

As such, if the policy-makers comprised of an equal number of men and women, it would then make a difference as to how women are perceived in general. The capabilities of a woman are equal to the flow of the universe; the rhythm of growth; the womb of the earth and the unleashed power of the mind. All these latent gifts are within reach, if only women spared a moment to silently draw on all their experiences to plant the seeds of mutual respect towards themselves and other women starting with their own children.

In summary, it is as the eighteenth-century English writer, philosopher and advocate of women’s rights Mary Wollstonecraft once said: “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves”.

** Article published in MSN Malaysia